No Battlemap

The following originated as a comment on Comments on 2008-01-13 Belflin Goes To Arcadia and was inspired by Monte Cook’s ideas regarding running combat without miniatures.

How to run a D&D 3.5 fight without a battlemap?

You can still use sketches. They will inevitably end up looking similar to this one:

Battle Sketch



Yup. That’s pretty much how I play it too. Also:

  • Ignore movement rules and play as logic and gameplay dictates; if it’s dramtically cool to be able to reach the bad guy in a single bound, that’s what happens (possibly with a charge bonus)
  • Only allow an Attack of Opportunity style free hit it there’s an obvious distraction. Spells such as Daze and Flare are great for distracting foes. If someone tries to push past a combatant, that gives a free attack too
  • Use interesting, climbable and throwable terrain. Climbing on a table grants +1AC against melee opponents on the floor. When upended they grant partial cover against missile attacks. Have falling damage for falling (or being pushed) down stairs (1d6, DC15 Ref save for half, fall prone), allow characters to jump onto their opponents and suchlike. Think “Cinematic Wild West Bar Room Brawl” at all times.
  • Magic can be a show stopper, so let it be. A fireball in an enclosed space will have everyone diving for cover. Encourage the players to think about the consequences of using big, showy magic and help them to play accordingly. Lighting bolts bounce off walls. Never forget that :)
  • Remember that as GM you can add and remove Bad Guys at will; you’re not limited to the number of figures on the map if there is no map and no figures. If you need a Hobgoblin to appear round the corner, have him appear. If the fight is going badly for the heroes then reduce the number of monsters not in combat or allow a few of them to die early. This is especially useful if you want the players to reach a certain point before the end of the session.
  • Let the players help build the story. Encourage them to say things like “I grab a bottle from the table and smash the Orc over the head with it”, even though you’ve not said anything about what’s on the table. Let them fill the room dressing with their imagination so you don’t have to. If they want to dodge into alcoves that aren’t on your map, that’s great! Shared play, remember.
  • Aid Another is THE single best rule in D&D, so use it. According to the rules a monster can use Aid Another to help another creature get a +2 to hit, and it doesn’t provoke an Attack of Opportunity doing so. That means 2 (or more) Orcs can gang up and hit even high AC characters. It’s great for those times when it’s tactically better to get one guaranteed hit though than lots of little ineffective shots. Do it often enough and the players will start to use the tactic too :)

Phew. I’m sure I can think of more, though that’ll do for now.......

GreyWulf 2008-01-22 14:19 UTC

I can smell Old School from two feet away! “Lighting bolts bounce off walls.” Those were the days...

AlexSchroeder 2008-01-22 14:40 UTC

Heh. Everything smells of Old School!

Per the SRD, Lightning Bolts don’t bounce, I know. But where’s the fun in that, eh? :) :) :)

GreyWulf 2008-01-22 16:47 UTC

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